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THE SITUATION ROOM
Steve Fossett Missing; Hacker Attack on Pentagon
Aired September 4, 2007 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, breaking news we're following. Steve Fossett is missing. A massive search is underway for the wealthy adventurer and record-setting pilot. He simply vanished after taking off from a Nevada airstrip. We'll update you on what's going on.
A hacker attack on the Pentagon gains access to e-mail possibly involving the top brass; is China testing America's cyber defenses?
And comedian Jerry Lewis' utters an anti-gay slur on the air while raising millions for charity -- today, the apology.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The adventurer Steve Fossett has vanished. He was the first to solo around the world in a balloon, broke a world distance record in a single engine plane but now he's the subject of a massive search stretching hundreds of miles in the western Nevada wilderness. Fossett took off in a small single engine yesterday morning and failed to return.
As many as 13 aircraft have been out looking for him. We're expecting to hear from search and rescue authorities within the hour. Standing by live CNN's Miles O'Brien, Tom Foreman, our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton -- let's turn to Carol Costello first with a closer look at the missing pilot -- Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, you mentioned those aircraft in the air, they've been doing grid searches in rugged western Nevada looking for Steve Fossett. There is simply no sign of him. This is a man who was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame and was planning another adventure.
COSTELLO (voice-over): Steve Fossett was a master at cheating death, a retired financial guy, a millionaire with an enormous appetite to do what no one dared to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see myself as an adventurer.
COSTELLO: He set at least 115 world records but he's best known for his daring hot air balloon flight.
(LAUGHTER) COSTELLO: That was 2002, when, after trying six times he finally flew a balloon around the world. It wasn't easy. He nearly died on this attempt, plummeting into the Coral Sea off of Australia, because his balloon had been shredded by violent storms. Fossett didn't stop there. In 2006, he flew a single engine plane nonstop in 76 hours, 45 minutes, risking his life, but satisfying his need to achieve.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like to do something unique in adventure and exploration. That might be doing something first, like the first solo flight around the world by airplane last year, or it might be doing something the fastest or the farthest or the highest.
COSTELLO: Fossett told us he is not a thrill seeker. He tried to reduce the risk to achieve his goal. That's what he appeared to be doing Monday, when he took to the air to identify dry lakebeds on the ground. His friend and financier Sir Richard Branson says Fossett wanted to break a land speed record using those dry lakebeds.
He says "Steve is a tough old boot. I suspect he is waiting by his plane right now for someone to pick him up. Based on his track record, I feel confident we'll get some good news soon."
COSTELLO: A lot of people are hoping to get some good news. Fossett also told a crowd of fliers in Dayton, Ohio, just a short time ago he was planning yet another mission. He wanted to break a glider record and he wanted to do that in Argentina -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Carol Costello with that, thank you, Carol, very much.
Let's go to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. She has some details on the plane officials say Fossett was flying. Abbi, what are you finding?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, photos on this aviation Web site match details that officials have been given about the plane that Fossett was flying yesterday, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Super Decathlon, a single engine two-seater airplane, photographed at the California airport previously here by Doug Robertson (ph) and shown on the Web site Airport-data.com.
Online records show that it was registered to the "Flying M" hunting club in Yerington, Nevada. We know that Fossett took off from the private airstrip there earlier yesterday. This appears to be the plane that Steve Fossett was flying and that search teams are now looking for -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.
The area crews are combing for is very, very rugged terrain. Let's get some more on that. Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. This is making for a very complicated, very dangerous search.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is, difficult, Wolf. I'm familiar with this area and the country. Take a look at this. If Steve Fossett took off headed south this would have been roughly his point of view as he lifted off and headed out over the mountains here.
You can see that it is full of tight, little valleys, little ravines where a plane can easily disappear and it is this way for hundreds of miles, depending on which direction you go. But consider also the range we're talking about here. If he went for one hour at about 150 miles an hour on this plane, he would have gone this far, that far into California and into Nevada.
If he went three hours, it would have been as far as the orangish (ph) circle here but he was allegedly carrying enough fuel for five hours. That could have conceivably carried him all the way to Canada, to the middle of the western states or down into Mexico, and one more thing to consider in all of this, even if he found a dry lake bed to sit down in, as was suggested by Mr. Branson there, you do have to bear this in mind.
This plane needs more than 400 feet in which to land but it needs more than 900 feet to take off, so even if he could safely put down somewhere on a flat piece of land, it doesn't necessarily mean he has enough room to get back in the air -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Tom. Thanks very much.
A top-notch pilot with experience, facing the biggest challenges, what could have gone wrong with Steve Fossett's plane? Joining us now on the phone, our space and technology correspondent, Miles O'Brien -- what's the answer? What possibly could have gone wrong, Miles? Because you've flown these kinds of planes, at least similar to what Steve Fossett was flying.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE AND TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, there's a full range of possibilities, Wolf that we could look at. Number one, we do know this. He was on a survey mission to look for a place to practice for this land speed record, which he'd like to accomplish at the bottom of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) flats. Now, did he find a location which he thought might be inviting and did he think well maybe I should land here to check it out and then turned out it wasn't such a great place to land.
He got stuck in some bog or something like that, or some adverse terrain. Did his engine simply fail? Did the engine quit? Did it force him to land in an area that is remote? Did he get into a situation where he was flying in the mountains and the winds were such that it caused a tremendous downdraft, forcing the plane onto the ground?
There's a host of scenarios along these lines, which come into play, impossible for to us speculate at this point. But right now the focus would be just trying to find out where he is.
BLITZER: And briefly, Miles, in this day and age aren't there almost automatically certain GPS systems, some sort of ping or pong that will allow a search and rescue operation to find a plane like this?
O'BRIEN: Well, this airplane was built in 1980, and in 1980, the type of ELT or emergency locating transmitter that would be installed at that time would simply emit a whooping noise on a specific frequency. It would not offer up any sort of latitude or longitude via satellite through the GPS system -- the newer version of that -- of the ELT do, do that.
They communicate with satellites and actually tell rescuers exactly the location, latitude and longitude, of a downed aircraft. Now, whether this plane had been retrofitted with that new ELT, I do not know for sure. It seems to me that would be unlikely, but it is possible that could be the case. If that were the case though, by now they would have received a signal from that device, and this is in a search that's well beyond 24 hours now.
They would have located that signal. It would have had the latitude and longitude and there wouldn't have been a search. It would have been simply a rescue, so I would be inclined to think that there was no satellite communication in this case.
BLITZER: All right, Miles, stand by, because we're standing by for the news conference and update on the search for Steve Fossett. Once that happens here on CNN we'll bring that to you.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Very vast and sparsely populated terrain out there, too, I mean thousands of square miles of nothing but...
BLITZER: You're from Reno.
CAFFERTY: Yeah, I am. And you know with the exception of Reno and Las Vegas the rest of the state has got jack rabbits and some antelope and deer.
Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards out on the campaign trail this past weekend pushing his proposal for university health care and a big part of Edwards' plan is something called mandatory preventive care. It would require Americans to go to the doctor regularly, even if they didn't want to or feel like they needed to.
Along with preventive care, Edwards' mandatory health plan would also cover chronic and long-term care; sort of a cradle to the grave approach, dental and vision coverage for every American would be included, as well. The cost, you ask -- $120 billion per year. Edwards says the bill could be paid by rolling back the tax cuts for Americans who make more than $200,000 per year.
So here's the question, not about the money. Should the government force people to go to the doctor? E-mail your thoughts on that to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.
John McCain getting into it with a 16-year-old...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: And thanks for the question, you little jerk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Find out just what caused the presidential candidate to say that to a high-schooler.
Also -- someone has action to one of the most secure computer systems in the world over at the Pentagon. Is China behind it?
And the world's largest toymaker will recall thousands of additionally potentially dangerous Chinese-made toys. A new list is coming out right now. Is your child playing with one of the new ones?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A hacker attack on the Pentagon may have some very ominous implications. Is China probing America's cyber defenses? Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. He is watching the story for us. How serious, Brian, is this electronic break-in?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, we're told it did not involve military secrets but the information that could have been tapped does draw some concern.
TODD (voice-over): E-mails, possibly including the travel plans of Defense Secretary Robert Gates or his deputies were recently hacked, and U.S. government sources believe the Chinese government was behind it. Gates alluded to the incident back in June.
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Elements of the OSD, unclassified e-mail system, were taken offline yesterday afternoon, due to a detected penetration, a variety of precautionary measures are being taken.
TODD: Sources say that unclassified system is not connected to e-mail networks that contain sensitive military secrets. Pentagon officials say none of their operations were disrupted. If it was the Chinese, what might they have been after?
KURT CAMPBELL, FORMER DEP. ASST. DEFENSE SECY.: They're trying to understand the nature of our defenses in terms of how sensitive sites are protected, and whether it's possible to penetrate them, but it suggests that ultimately, they would like to penetrate them to understand the nature of, for instance, our communication systems, our war plans, and how we operate in a crisis. TODD: The Chinese foreign ministry calls the acquisition unwarranted, groundless, a reflection of the Cold War mentality but Gates says the Defense Department gets hundreds of cyber attacks a day. Ira Winkler, former analyst at the National Security Agency, says other U.S. government departments are also vulnerable.
IRA WINKLER, AUTHOR, "SPIES AMONG US": They have the Nuclear Regulatory Agency. There are a variety of government agencies that are involved with energy production. There are a variety of government agencies, for example that also deal with food production.
TODD: As for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, we spoke to them. A spokeswoman there said that agency is vigilant against threats, even hired a contractor to try to hack into their system last year. The contractor failed, she said, after several attempts -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Any other agencies with sensitive information catching onto these threats, Brian?
TODD: Yes, we spoke with an official with the National Security Council who told us that experts are now looking at whether the White House, of all places should restrict the use of Blackberries to prevent cyber espionage.
BLITZER: That would be a major development, given the use of those Blackberries by White House officials. Thanks very much, Brian Todd, watching the story.
Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, what do you have?
COSTELLO: A couple of things, Wolf. The Associated Press is reporting Mattel will recall another batch of Chinese-made toys tomorrow. The toys reportedly may contain excessive amounts of lead paint. This is the third Mattel toy recall this summer. Sources tell AP the recalled items will number in the hundreds of thousands, including a Fisher Price toy and Barbie play set accessories. In August Mattel recalled millions of Chinese-made toys worldwide because of lead paint.
Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island says he won't give back $6,600 in donations he received from a Democratic donor with a criminal past. Several top Democrats including presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are returning donations from Norman Hsu. The businessman turned himself in to authorities in California where he's been a fugitive for 15 years on a grand theft charge. Kennedy says he's keeping the donation because there is no indication the contribution was illegal.
And former Vice President Al Gore says he will probably endorse one of his Democratic Party's presidential candidates, but he adds it won't necessarily be his former boss' wife, Hillary Clinton. Gore says he's friendly with her and with other candidates and as far as he's concerned, they're all on equal footing. Gore adds several of the Democratic White House hopefuls have called him for advice but he is not saying who -- back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: He endorsed Howard Dean in 2004. It didn't do Howard Dean much good at the time. We'll see whom he endorses this time. Carol, thanks very much.
Hillary Clinton shows her vulnerable side on national television.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know they may not still vote for me or even like me but at least I feel better because it's more legitimate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Can the New York senator win over the nation's women by taking her campaign to the talk show circuit?
Plus he was the president's point man in Baghdad. Now he's turning on the president. You're going to hear why, when we go one- on-one with President Bush's latest biographer.
Plus the comedian Jerry Lewis drops a slur while raising millions for charity. Did he undermine his telethon? Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Tonight a major worry over a damning report that says Iraq has failed on most of the measures for success. The Government Accountability Office looked at 18 benchmarks for political and security progress. Of that number, 11 have not been met. Four are partially met. Only three of the benchmarks have been met.
The grade for disarming the various militias, failure; for reducing sectarian violence, failure; and for increasing the number of Iraqi troops to stand up so U.S. troops can stand down, failure. One item that was met is establishing all planned joint security stations in Baghdad.
Let's turn to our congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's up on Capitol Hill. She's watching this for us. So Jessica, how did this play on the Hill today?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, Republicans are pushing back against this report. They say that despite the report, there is irrefutable proof that there has been progress as a result of the surge. Democrats beg to differ.
YELLIN (voice-over): Democrats say it's a damning analysis and point to this assessment of the Iraqi government.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you have to say it's dysfunctional. The government is dysfunctional.
YELLIN: They say its proof the surge itself has failed.
SEN CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The bottom line is very simple. We are worse off today in Iraq than we were six months ago.
YELLIN: Republicans agree the report is disappointing.
SEN. NORMAN COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: I hope this continues to put pressure on the Iraqis to say that we're not satisfied with their performance.
YELLIN: But most in the president's party say they'll withhold judgment until they receive General Petraeus' "Make or Break" report next week.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: There are a number of reports but all reports are not equal.
YELLIN: The GAO did find Iraq met three benchmarks, two for establishing and supporting security stations in Baghdad. The other, ensuring minority rights in the Iraqi legislature. Those who support the surge say that's three better than six months ago.
YELLIN: Now the findings in this report are dramatically more negative than an analysis released by the White House earlier this summer. That one gave Iraq far higher grades on at least seven different benchmarks. This has Democrats asking whether the White House has been sugar coating some of the information it's providing on the war -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And this is just the first of several reports that are about to be released, culminating next week with General Petraeus' report. He'll be testifying in person. He's back here in Washington. Jessica thanks very much.
Laura Bush's nickname, for someone very close to her husband, who does she call pigpen and why? You're going to find out.
Also, Hillary Clinton is showing two sides, one vulnerable, one silly. You'll see them both.
And how would you feel if you lost your pants on national TV? Our Jeanne Moos with a most unusual story, a very revealing look.
Stick around, lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the civil air patrol and search crews are scouring western Nevada's rugged terrain for the missing adventurer Steve Fossett. He took off in a single engine plane yesterday, to scout locations for a land speed record, hasn't been heard from since.
Hurricane Felix is weakening. It's now a category 1 as it moves across Nicaragua into Honduras and Guatemala. The storm made landfall today as a category 5, the second since Hurricane Dean just two weeks ago. Hurricane Henriette also slammed into Baja, California.
And Danish police say they foiled a terrorist bomb plot. Eight men are in custody. Authorities say the suspects are militant Islamists with links to the top leaders of al Qaeda.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It was released just this morning, and dead certain a candid new book about President Bush is already generating controversy. One former official is taking exception with President Bush's recollection of the contentious decision, the very, very controversial decision to dismantle the Iraqi army. I'll speak with the author, Robert Draper, momentarily, but CNN's Mary Snow is joining us first with more on this dispute.
Mary, what do you have?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the man who issued the order to disband the Iraqi army is going out of his way to try to show he wasn't alone in the decision-making.
SNOW (voice-over): The risk has pitted President Bush against his former appointee to Iraq, Paul Bremer. In dispute, who exactly was behind the decision to dismantle the Iraqi army in 2003, while Bremer, Jerry, as he's often called was in Iraq?
JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTL STUDIES: I think Jerry Bremer has been so frustrated at being the whipping boy for the failures of the U.S. policy in Iraq that he's finally saying enough is enough. If the president won't stand by me, I won't stand by him.
SNOW: In the new book "Dead Certain" President Bush is quoted as saying "Well, the policy was to keep the army intact." He added "it didn't happen."
Author Robert Draper says he pressed the president on his reaction when he found out the policy was reversed and he quotes the president as saying "Yeah, I can't remember. I'm sure I said this is the policy, what happened."
But Bremer is insisting the president was aware of the decision. He took the unusual step of trying to prove his point by releasing to "The New York Times" letters between him and the president. In May of 2003, Bremer references a plan of dissolving Saddam's military and intelligence structures. To in his words, emphasize that "we mean business."
A day later the president wrote a thank you letter telling Bremer "Your leadership is apparent. You have quickly made a positive and significant impact. You have my full support and confidence."
"The Times" points out that Bremer only made a brief reference to the plan in his three pages and that it doesn't show the president approved the order or knew details about it. Still, it's a nonchalant tone of the letter that strikes some observers over a decision seen as a pivotal point in the war.
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: That crucial mistake continues to haunt us today because that allowed the snowballing of the insurgency to begin.
SNOW: Now, the White House has said it wouldn't be commenting on the book. We did reach out to Paul Bremer but his assistant told us he was unavailable for an interview -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thanks very much.
And joining us now is the author of "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush", Robert Draper. Robert, thanks very much for coming in.
ROBERT DRAPER, AUTHOR, "DEAD CERTAIN": Thank you for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's pick up on that point, Paul Bremer versus George W. Bush, their respective recollections. They seem to disagree on this whole notion of dismantling the Iraqi army, which a lot of people now just conclude it was a huge mistake. Who is right? Who is wrong?
DRAPER: Well I think in a way the answer is somewhere in the middle and what the answer, what both men have in common in terms of their recollections. It's just kind of breathtaking sort of casualness about what turned out to be a very momentous reversal of administration policy.
As mentioned has been mentioned, the Bremer memo, the part about disbanding the army is buried into a very long memo. When I spoke to the president about it, his tone was basically nonchalance. He didn't quite remember exactly how he reacted that day when word came down that Bremer had once on the ground reversed administration policy. I think what it goes to, Wolf, is how differential the president was towards the Pentagon and towards Bremer, at this point in time, during the Iraq war. That is to say, that he viewed what Bremer was doing as the actions of a guy who was on the ground who could see the realities that perhaps he and the White House couldn't see. And figured, well, if that's how Bremer is reacting to the situation, then let's follow his lead.
BLITZER: You had extraordinary access to this president and his top advisers. At one point, you call him the first optimist. Let me read from page 419. "The first optimist had made pessimists out of Americans. He yearned to make more decisions. And he just knew it. After October and November, we're referring to this year, the strategy would work. Bush would be proven right and that big ball would be back in his hands again and he would heave it long." He still believes that the strategy in Iraq is going to succeed?
DRAPER: Very much so. I also think though, Wolf, that there's an interesting aspect to the president's optimism. And it's as much saying we cannot afford to fail as saying I'm confident we will succeed. He realizes though what the stakes are in Iraq, not only in terms of the region, not only in terms of America, but certainly in terms of his legacy, it's wedded inextricably to the outcome of Iraq, which is why he's been so supportive of Maliki, for example. He knows that everybody else who visits the prime minister is saying you've got to get your government together. The President Bush sees his role as being the guy to sort buttress Maliki, to coach him on leadership and to express optimism whenever possible.
BLITZER: And take us into his mind. When he says I'm the decider, he sort of likes to live by that rule?
DRAPER: He does. He also likes -- I think he's like an umpire in his regard. He makes a decision. He sticks with it. He doesn't look back.
And, you know, I think that there are aspects of the president that are sort of two sides of the same coin. You can interpret his servitude as steadfastness. You can interpret it also as stubbornness. And that's why I came up with the title, basically that I really thought that that was a core aspect of President Bush, that he is, if nothing else, a man of clarity and a man who sticks to his guns sometimes in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
BLITZER: Because he doesn't like to admit he ever makes mistakes?
DRAPER: No, he doesn't. Now he's aware that he has but he doesn't like that exercise. He certainly doesn't like talking to members of the media about it. He's never felt that he has an obligation to any of us to air his own misgivings or ruefulness and I have to say during the six hours or so of interviews that I did with him, the president was very free form. He showed a wide range of emotions. I can't say that for even a nanosecond he ever suggested anything that looked like regret. That's just not who he is.
BLITZER: And he didn't start crying during the interviews with you, even though he talked about the crying?
DRAPER: Yes, he says, I'm a crier. He says, I do tears. And it's interesting for a guy who has this kind of texified swagger that he's more than happy, you know, confident I guess one could tell you of his masculinity to talk about how cries a lot. No, he didn't shed tears in front of me. He said that I would shed tears once he got a hold of my manuscript.
BLITZER: What about when he cries? Did he tell you specifically why he cries?
DRAPER: Yes, he said he gets very moved, particularly when he's visiting families of the fallen, grieving widows. These are really remarkable moments for him. And he made a point of saying to me that though he goes there to buttress them, to make them feel better that as he puts it, the healer gets healed. That he feels emboldened. Because more often than not, these people have said to him, these families of the fallen, don't let my son die in vain, finish the job. And that to him is taken the support of that he's doing the right thing. Now, whether or not he should be governing or forming administration and Iraq policy on the basis of what the grieving families have to say is an arguable matter.
BLITZER: You have fascinating detail on the relationship he and Laura Bush have had with Karl Rove over the years on page 102. You write this, "Laura would later express her own distaste for pig pen Rove. There was more hate than love in her love/hate regard for Bush's top adviser." Go ahead and elaborate. Tell us why.
DRAPER: Well, I think she sees Karl Rove as a necessary evil. But she knows that getting elected is often an un-pretty blood sport. That doesn't mean that she has to like it. That doesn't mean that she has to like Rove's antics. She also I think has viewed Karl as being someone willing to hog the credit, credit that perhaps belongs to her husband. She'll sometimes say, let's see what boy genius has to say about that. And Mrs. Bush is a very gentle and tender soul. She's not the kind of person -- although she can have a sharp knife in her remarks, she doesn't generally levy it towards people unless she has a less than fond view of them and I think that's a fair description of how she regards Rove.
BLITZER: Did you sit down with her as well?
DRAPER: I did. I interviewed her a couple times.
BLITZER: The book is titled "Dead Certain, the Presidency of George W. Bush," the author Robert Draper, we've just barely skimmed on some of the nuggets in the book. Thanks for writing it.
DRAPER: It was my pleasure.
BLITZER: Republican White House hopeful John McCain versus a 16- year-old.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: And thanks for the question, you little jerk.
BLITZER: What did the teen say to get that response? You're going to want to hear the exchange.
And she's one of the most powerful women in the United States. Hillary Clinton is showing her softer side. Will it woo female voters or turn them off?
And why is Jerry Lewis apologizing for an off-the-cuff remark during his telethon?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Republican presidential hopeful John McCain prides himself on straight talk. Today at a forum with students in New Hampshire, he got a chance to hone his skills. He faced some very sharp questions and he gave some very blunt, sometimes amusing responses. First, the 71-year-old candidate, he was asked about his age.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you ever worry that like you might die in office? Or get Alzheimer's, or another disease that might affect your judgment?
MCCAIN: People will judge by the bigger and the enthusiasm associated with our campaign. Every campaign I've ever been in, in my life I've out campaigned all of my opponents, and I'm confident that I will, and thanks for the question, you little jerk.
BLITZER: Go to our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. She's out in New Hampshire covering the political scene for us.
Some are suggesting it was that kind of response from McCain that indicates maybe he's hitting a stride.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, it was certainly McCain classic. It was that sort of off-the-cuff irreverent McCain that came in here in 2000, and won, and surprising everybody, won by 19 points over George Bush.
So there are signs of the old McCain in some of these town hall meetings and these appearances that he makes. He is counting, of course, on New Hampshire to kind of deliver him the same sort of miracle they delivered in 2000. The only problem with that is that independence really put him over the top and this time around, independents are mad at him about the Iraq war and his support for it, but more than that, they are much more inclined to vote for democrats. So while this is the McCain we're seeing, he's going to have to do more than hit his stride. He's going to have to sail.
BLITZER: Listen to this other exchange, Candy, that he had when he was asked at this forum about gay marriage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you support civil unions or gay marriage?
MCCAIN: I do not. I do not. I think that they impinge on the status and sanctity of marriage between men and women.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you want to take away someone's rights because what you believe in is wrong?
MCCAIN: I don't put that interpretation on my position but I understand yours. You want to have one more? You're doing great.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I came here to see a good leader. I don't.
MCCAIN: Well, listen I understand. I thank you. That's what America is all about and I appreciate your views.
BLITZER: So what do you think, Candy? Is this going to help or hurt the senator?
CROWLEY: Well, welcome to New Hampshire, where 16-year-olds can say they're disappointed in the leadership of a senior senator and war hero, but nonetheless, McCain as you saw him then, was very pointed about saying, look, this is what New Hampshire is about. I welcome these sorts of questions, and certainly, it helps him, because first of all it, gets him in the news and at this point, this is a campaign that needs the free media it can get, and you know they can't afford advertising at this point so obviously it brings him to the forefront, and he thinks that this shows more of his straight talk and his willingness to take a punch, so he didn't seem all that disturbed about it.
BLITZER: Candy Crowley covering politics for us up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Candy, thanks very much.
Let's continue our political coverage. There's a big reason we're seeing more of Senator Hillary Clinton's softer side. When it comes to winning the white house in '08, experts say women could be the deciding factor.
CNN's Kathleen Koch is following the story for us. Kathleen, it doesn't necessarily suggest that Senator Clinton is a shoe in with women voters, does it?
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No Wolf because while a lot of women certainly are inspired by a female candidate actually having a shot at the white house, there are plenty of women voters who Hillary Clinton is still struggling to win over.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Running for president for dummies. I read it, it's very helpful.
KOCH: Hillary followed promptly on the Ellen Degeneres Show by Hillary vulnerable.
CLINTON: I think when people get to know me, when they get to see me, when they get to make their own judgments, you know, they might not still vote for me or even like me, but at least I feel better because it's more legitimate. And so what I'm trying to do is clear away all of the, you know, the brush so people can get a fair shot at figuring out what they think about me.
KOCH: The front runner with women also has high negatives with them, 40%. The former first couple spent the day on the airwaves try to humanize the candidate. On the Oprah Winfrey Show, Bill on dealing with a tired Hillary.
BILL CLINTON: Some days I get a call from around the country saying, you realize I'm 15 years older than you were when you did this? I said, well, nobody made you run, girl.
KOCH: And on his new title, should Hillary win.
CLINTON: My Scottish friends say I should be called first lady because it's the closest thing to first lady. JENNY BAUCUS, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Blue collar women by and large have really identified with Hillary. The problem is, they don't vote. So what you're seeing from Bill and Hillary today is a road show to go out there and to try to bring some of these women into the primary, to get them motivated behind Hillary.
KOCH: The other candidates aren't conceding the women's vote. John Edwards' wife urging greater advocacy for women's rights. Bill Richardson promising Supreme Court nominees who support abortion rights. Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and John McCain, all forming women's voter support groups.
So while Hillary's presence in the race has indeed heightened the focus on women voters, the candidates understand they don't vote as a block. Many of them are up for grabs and looking for a candidate who will make a real difference in their lives, Wolf. They register and vote in larger numbers than men, so Wolf, often as they go, so goes the race.
BLITZER: Good point, Kathleen. Thanks very much.
Meanwhile, democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson is talking about God's wishes for the presidential process. Richardson wants Iowa to keep its first in the nation caucus and suggests God wants it that way. Listen to what Governor Richardson said yesterday.
GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON (D), IOWA: Iowa, for good reason, for constitutional reasons, for reasons related to the Lord, should be the first caucus and primary.
BLITZER: Asked about that comment today, Richardson called it an off-the-cuff comment. When pressed further, he said Iowa should launch the nominating calendar because "it's a tradition in American politics that has worked."
Jerry Lewis is caught on camera using a slur while raising millions of dollars for charity, you're going to be hearing what he has to say and what he's saying now.
Plus, when rescuers pulled a stranded kayaker to safety, there may not have been any crime, so why was there a cover-up? Jeanne Moos has a most unusual investigation.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Jerry Lewis says he's sorry for a gay slur he uttered during his annual muscular dystrophy telethon. The comedian came under immediate and intense fire from gay activists for the two words that tumbled from his mouth. Let's bring back Carol Costello. She's watching this story for us.
How far over the top did he go?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He was pretty bad, Wolf. You know it was an attempt at humor that fell very flat. Jerry Lewis, who is 81 years old, and up all night to raise money for Jerry's Kids is now apologizing.
JERRY LEWIS: Good evening. How are we? Are we in focus?
COSTELLO: Jerry Lewis isn't the king of tact, but there are those who say he went way over the line in the 18th hour of his muscular dystrophy telethon. Listen to what a weary Lewis says as he attempts to avoid a camera.
LEWIS: Oh, your family has come to see you. You remember Bart, your older son, Jesse, the illiterate fag.
COSTELLO: The gay and lesbian alliance against defamation calls this kind of anti-gay slur, simply unacceptable.
NEIL GIULIANO, GLAAD PRESIDENT: It's very defamatory. It's an anti-gay slur and Mr. Lewis and other folks who use it either by intent or out of trying to be funny need to realize it's not funny and they should apologize when they do use it.
COSTELLO: This isn't the first time that Lewis was politically incorrect.
LARRY KING: I would be remiss if I did not ask what went on when you criticized women in comedy.
LEWIS: Nothing went on. I didn't do that.
COSTELLO: But in 2000, Lewis admitted saying he didn't find women comedians funny.
LEWIS: I have it and I said some women comedians make me uncomfortable. Because a man comedian can do anything he wants and I'm not offended by it. But we're talking about a god given miracle who produces a child. I have a difficult time seeing her do this on stage.
COSTELLO: Lewis even angered the people he struggles to help by defending his telethon style this way.
LEWIS: I'm telling about a child in trouble. If it's pity, we'll get some money. You don't want to be pitied for being a cripple. Stay in your house."
COSTELLO: Lewis later apologized for that. About the recent flap, his friend co-MDA host Ed McMahon's wife says give Lewis a break. Pam McMahon said, "He such a good soul. He hasn't been well healthy. Why can we be grateful for the good things people do? Why do we have to dissect every bad thing?
COSTELLO: And she points to Lewis' 63 years as MDA pitch man. This year, he set a record $62 million for Jerry's Kids.
And we did get a statement from Jerry Lewis late this afternoon. He said, "I apologize to anyone who was offended. I obviously made a bad choice of words. Everyone who knows me understands that I hold no prejudice in this regard. I accept responsibility for what I said. There are no excuses and I am sorry." And his words are meaningful. The gay lesbian alliance late this afternoon accepted his apology.
BLITZER: All right. Good for that, because is he a unique talent. When it comes to Jerry Lewis, I'm like the French, I love Jerry Lewis, always have and he's done incredibly important work.
COSTELLO: Well, it's interesting, but you know, he gets away with this when other comedians, Michael Richards went on that rant in the comedy club saying "the n word" and he'll probably never work again. But Jerry Lewis?
BLITZER: Jerry Lewis is Jerry Lewis. All right. Thanks very much, Carol, for that.
Jack Cafferty is joining from us New York.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards says that, under his plan for universal health care, doctors' visits would be mandatory. So the question this hour is, should the government force people to go to the doctor?
K.S. in Miami, "Yeah it ought to be mandatory for the insurance industry to pay for those doctor visits. Prevention is a lot cheaper than expensive treatment but the health industry makes more money with treatment so they don't want Americans to go for yearly checkups."
Debbie in Tennessee, "When was the last time Edwards tried to find a doctor who could see him without a one to two-month wait? When the patient's forced to the doctor by government, is government next going to force treatment on patients who don't agree perhaps with that treatment? Is the government going to keep records of our health care? This is a spiraling nightmare waiting to happen."
Eric writes, "Are you kidding me? Absolutely not. What's next a mandatory lifestyle guide?"
John in Oklahoma, "Yes, Edwards has offered a true comprehensive health care plan which would ensure equal health care for all. In order for that to be financially feasible, preventative medicine is vital. The current system totally broken. We require people to get blood tests in order to marry, driver's license before they drive, the same should hold true for universal health care. Those who refuse to see a doctor should certainly have the right to do that as long as they opt out and don't make the rest of us pay for their catastrophic bills when their lack of attention to their health leads to things like heart disease, diabetes, or other permanent, costly illness."
J.W. writes, "No and Edwards is forfeiting any hope for election if he thinks he or anybody else can impose this level of government oversight on Americans. He needs to take a pill."
Lou in Enterprise, Alabama, "Mandatory, no. Highly recommended, sure. It's smart to try to head something off at the pass, but we're already getting too much government say-so in our personal matters. Of course, then you have everyone screaming for extra days off work since it's mandatory they go to the doctor."
And Marie in Shepardstown, West Virginia, "Your car has to be inspected every year. Why shouldn't you?"
If you didn't see your email here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. We post more of them online a long with video clips of the Cafferty File.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.
Let's see what's coming up right at the top of the hour in "OUT IN THE OPEN." Rick Sanchez standing by.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hey HeHeyHeyWolf, we're going to be watching some breaking news for you, the search for the missing adventurer, Steve Fossett, two hurricanes, of course, and a school where some black kids are facing attempted murder charges. The kid they supposedly beat to a bloody pulp went to a school function that night and also went to school the next day, so really what gives? It's a question we're asking, going to be following it for you and we'll bring it out in the open.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: We'll be watching, Rick, thanks very much.
Coming up, a kayaker gets stuck under a bridge in rising water. He escaped with his life but not his pants.
Stay with us.
Here's a look at some of the Hot Shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press.
In Israel, a young demonstrator stands dressed as a target during a protest. The sign says "a weak government leaves children as targets."
In China, workers in a toy testing lab checked for lead paint and choking hazards.
In Germany, a baby West African mandrel monkey sucks his thumb as he snuggles up to his mother.
And in Bulgaria, a close call. The French military's aerobatic team performs during a three day air show.
Some of this hour's Hot Shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.
Jeanne Moos has the most unusual story of a man who thought he might lose his life but lost his pants instead.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're one of four kayakers stuck under a bridge in rushing water. What do you need?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to send you a rope and a life Jacket.
MOOS: In addition to the rope and life Jacket, how about some pants? Here's the view through the eyes of the photographer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I look and here's this guy, his pants are down to his ankles and it's like oh, do I zoom in, do I zoom out, hold the shot?
MOOS: He decided to hold the shot. And what a shot it was of Dennis Riley, who says that though he lost his swimsuit.
DENNIS RILEY: Hey, I kept on my hat and my sunglasses.
MOOS: Riley joins a distinguished roster of men who have publicly lost their pants and lose them over and over, being replayed on You Tube.
Not only did this wannabe matador have his pants gored, he had to watch the bull crowned had his undies. There's a cricket player losing his pants and baseball player who nevertheless manages to throw the ball with his pants around his ankles. Even women occasionally lose their bottoms, in this case in midair on a trapeze, from a trapeze to elevator, naked trio rescued from U.K. lift. And then there are all those naked burglars. This guy danced the hula naked to distract a clerk so his buddy could steal beer and this guy admitted he had too much to drink.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know what I did was wrong.
MOOS: He got nabbed crawling naked around a tobacco shop in Omaha.
Forget bottoms. This woman lost her top trying to grab money out of a cash register. A few minutes later, she came back asking for her top back.
As for Riley, he got his swimsuit back. Within seconds of reaching dry land, he was tugging at it and covering up, playing down his exposure.
RILEY: There wasn't much to see because I was in some pretty cold water.
MOOS: The cameraman showed video to the rescuers who howled with laughter as their captain gave Riley a hand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to push the guy up and there's nowhere else to push him except you know where.
MOOS: So what kind of jokes were they making?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well you know, be careful when you shake the captain's hand.
MOOS: If you're really lucky, your pants can almost break your fall. Firemen didn't just rescue this guy from the flames, they rescued him from exposing his flaming red underwear.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: What a story. Let's go to Rick Sanchez with "OUT IN THE OPEN."
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